Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched his long-awaited crackdown on recreational marijuana yesterday, but that didn't stop Vermont lawmakers from defiantly repealing cannabis prohibition in the Green Mountain State. Last night, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill allowing adults to grow, possess and consume marijuana, making Vermont the very first state to repeal prohibition in the legislature rather than through ballot measures.
“Vermont is poised to make history by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana cultivation and possession legislatively, rather than by ballot initiative. We applaud lawmakers for heeding the calls of their constituents and taking this important step toward treating marijuana more like alcohol,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
The legislation is a revised bill that was sent back to the legislature last summer after Governor Phil Scott (R) asked lawmakers to toughen the punishments for infractions like driving while high, smoking in front of children and providing marijuana to minors. After adding those measures, the House passed the bill, which now heads to the Senate (which passed the original version last year) for approval before heading back to the desk of Governor Scott, who indicated last month that he plans to sign it.
Of course, that was before yesterday's news that Attorney General Sessions was launching a crackdown on states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Although federal prohibition has been in effect for decades, individual states have been allowed to legalize cannabis under the Cole Memo — a directive issued in 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who instructed federal prosecutors not to interfere with state-legalized marijuana industries as long as they are compliant with local regulations. That memo helped the number of recreational states jump from 2 in 2013 to 8 in 2016. That progress is now in peril after Sessions rescinded the memo yesterday, setting the stage for a crackdown.
But people are already lining up to fight Sessions, and we're not just talking about activists, dispensary owners and medical marijuana patients. Politicians like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D), Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R), Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and many more high-profile politicians are calling on Sessions to either step away from the failed War on Drugs or to step down from the position of attorney general.
Now Vermont lawmakers appear to be joining the resistance movement by defying Sessions with their move to repeal pot prohibition. If other states follow suit, then threatening a crackdown will be the best thing Sessions could have done for legalization.